Over at Religion in U.S. History, Kelly Baker highlights the recently-released Guitar Praise, the Christian alternative to Activision’s hit Guitar Hero. Baker summarizes the game’s purpose, noting that
Now, folks who are offended by secular rock music can rock out, in a wholesome way, to songs by Relient K, dc talk, and Caedmons Call among others. One can groove with a plastic guitar and praise at the same time. Digital Praise wants to combine interactive media with effective worship.
Noting that this is not the first Christian-themed video game, Baker suggests that
this game could be successful where other Christian games have failed to gain ground. Guitar Hero is a huge success because it fulfills the dreams of all who wanted to be rock stars by allowing one to be a star in your own living room. Guitar Praise will likely build upon this success with more spiritual aspirations, of course.
This led my thoughts to (the lack of) Mormon-themed video games. Latter-day Saints are certainly no strangers to video games: Nolan Bushnell, creator of Pong and the “father of video games” was raised as a Latter-day Saint in Utah, and on top of that, anyone who has ever lived in Helaman Halls or the recently torn-down Deseret Towers as a BYU freshman knows that video games and video game geeks are in abundance there. The lack of Mormon-themed video games is even more perplexing given the fact that Latter-day Saints have created numerous Mormon-themed board and card games, including such classics as Settlers of Zarahemla and Missionary Impossible: The Game.
I did find this game (Book of Mormon Battles), and am aware that the subject has been discussed before on other blogs (AMV has a couple of great posts on the subject: I especially like the proposed SIM City 8: Colorado City in the first post). While I am not an active gamer, I do enjoy occasionally playing the Wii at friends’ houses and Guitar Hero and Rock Band with my brothers-in-law when I visit my in-laws. I am curious about the reasons for the lack of LDS-themed games, but also what it might reveal about Mormons.
In response to the first question—why the dearth of Mormon video games—the possibilities are numerous. One obvious example is that Mormon life just isn’t that interesting in many regards. A Mormon version of the interactive music games like Guitar Hero and Guitar Praise, for instance, would be severely limited in that it would most likely consist of 18th and 19th century hymns played solely on the piano and organ (no guitars allowed!), with the occasional violin or flute accompaniment. If a microphone was included (a la Rock Band), then perhaps players could score higher by singing off key (like that tone-deaf lady who sat behind me every week growing up). At best (or perhaps much worse), Mormon game developers looking to capitalize on this market might make a Mormon Rock Band where players could jam to classic EFY songs. Playing the drums, guitar, or base for Peter Brienholdt and Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band just doesn’t hold the same appeal (at least to me) as AC/DC, The Ramones, The Strokes, or any number of classic rock bands and artists.
Non-music games, however, seem to have endless possibilities in the Mormon market. I remember playing the original Oregon Trail as a third-grader. I would always name my wagon leader Angus Cannon (in honor of my plains-crossing ancestor) and give the other members of my wagon Mormon names like Heber and Parley. Obviously, in my mind, the game was actually Mormon Trail. In addition to the obvious Book of Mormon war games and the humorous suggestions over at AMV (i.e. God’s Army: The Video Game and Food Storage!), potential classics include General Authority, in which you begin as a freshly-returned RM and newly-called Elder’s Quorum President, and based on your management of the Quorum, you have the opportunity to advance to such prestigous callings as Bishop’s counselor, high councillor, and eventually Stake President. If you minimize apostasy and increase church membership and activity, you increase your chances of getting called to the newly-created 18th Quorum of the 70, and might make your way even higher. However, if you fail to improve home teaching during your initial stint as a 21-yr. old EQP, then you get demoted to Nursery Leader in a family ward.
All joking aside, I wonder what the lack of LDS-themes video games reveals about Mormons. Is one reason for the lack of games treating Mormon themes the respect (or fear) Mormons hold for what they see as sacred subjects? Is it because all of the above proposals deal with relatively controversial subjects? Any game treating the Book of Mormon story necessarily risks glorifying the war aspects of the story instead of spiritual lessons and stories. In addition, it raises questions about geographical location and landscape of the Book of Mormon’s stories. My proposed General Authority highlights other sensitive issues, including gender (only males, after all, could progress to the status of GA) and the nature of callings (if it is inspiration from God, is it blasphemous to play a game that depends on doing certain things to court Divine favor? If it is other factors, doesn’t the game run the risk of denying God’s hand in church callings?). Or perhaps no mass-market Mormon video games exist because each, in some way, would probably requires us to laugh at ourselves, and our conditioned response to criticism isn’t to laugh, but to defend?